One of the most fascinating things at the Coronado Historic Site is the natural environment. Everyone knows that we are an archaeological site, with a unique and diverse assortment of artifacts and structures. In addition, we have an assortment of local flora and fauna that makes a visit to the site an opportunity to experience more of ancient New Mexico than ruins. Not that ruins aren’t exciting.
One of the many things archaeologists know about the Ancestral Puebloans was that they were excellent farmers. Their subsistence was based on the three sisters; corn, beans, and squash. Here at the site, we maintain a garden in which we grow those crops, as well as amaranth and what is referred to as Mexican Saffron. This is a native plant which allowed the Spanish explorers to color their food, such as rice, just as they had in Spain. It doesn’t have the same flavor as Spanish Saffron but it does have the same intense yellow color.
Figure 1. Mexican Saffron in our garden.
Animals are also an important part of the environment at the Coronado Historic Site. We regularly see cottontails, road runners, a wide variety of finches, hummingbirds, hawks, ravens, thrashers, coyotes, and jack rabbits. Recently for the first time in several decades a small herd of Elk were spotted near the river. In addition we have the full assortment of reptiles and amphibians know in the area.
One of the unique desert dwellers is the spade foot toad. When it rains enough to get the ground wet a few inches down, Spade foot toads appear. Usually we hear them before we can see them. They are brilliantly adapted for life in the desert, digging themselves into the ground when it’s too hot, and coming up to feed when moisture makes the earth pliable and insects abundant.
Figure 2. Spade foot toad.
Among the most common reptiles to be seen is our state reptile the New Mexico whiptail. Although very common and easy to spot, this is a unique creature in that it is Parthenogenic. That is a very fancy word for saying that all of the species are of the same sex. All of the whiptails you see are female. When they feel the need to have offspring, like the mutated dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, they can clone themselves by producing fertile eggs on their own. This eliminates the need to go hunting for a mate in the harsh environment of the desert.
Figure 3. New Mexico whiptail.
Of course the creature most kids want to see, and I’m sure most parents would rather not, is the rattlesnake. There are two varieties common to our area: the western diamond back, and the prairie rattlesnake. It is very rare to see either. They are very reclusive and would rather not see people, as we get in the way of them finding a meal. The one pictured below (Figure 4) was spotted on our lower trails nearer to the river. Other snakes you may see are the coachwhip, the bull snake, and the king snake. All of them are harmless and very elusive.
Figure 4. Diamond back rattlesnake.
On your next visit to the Coronado Historic site please stop by our garden and see how the 2016 crop is doing. Also, take the time to walk on our trails and see some of the wildlife. Imagine what it was like, 400 years ago, to live in the ancient village of Kuaua with all of the natural world a part of your everyday life. Most of the plants you would encounter, and many of the animals were necessary for your daily life. Besides the plants you grew, the yucca provided the fibers needed to make any number of articles, from sandals to nets for catching rabbits. The ancestors who lived at Kuaua were well adapted to the natural environment. Their life could not have existed without it. So on your next visit take the time to see the plants and animals that are a part of the village and imagine what that life was like centuries ago.